Branford’s Mama Basta: Food ‘good enough for your family’

SHORELINE — Family dinners at Grandma Mary’s were a Sunday staple. Between 15 and 40 cousins, aunts and uncles would gather around the table to indulge in good home-cooked meals.

Nicole Ball remembers this family tradition from years gone by and carries it on, albeit on a smaller scale, with her husband, Joe, and their three children — Joseph, 9; John, 7 and June, 6.

Now, with the launch of her homemade meal delivery service, Ball is sharing her love of food and family with the community.

This Branford wife, mom and cook prides herself on creating dishes from scratch.

During the summer growing months, she frequents local farms procuring produce.

Other ingredients she purchases locally include produce from Branford’s Carbonella & Desarbo; bread for subs and sliders, West Haven’s Apicellas Bakery; pasta, West Haven’s Durante’s Pasta and cheese, East Haven’s Calabro Cheese and North Haven’s Luizzi Gourmet Food Market.

All of the sauces, dressings, spices mixtures, croutons and breadcrumbs are specially created in the Mama Basta kitchen.

“There’s a lot of thought that goes into the flavor profile of every dish,” says Ball. “We don’t open a package of taco seasoning — we have created a blend of spices that we think is the best!”

The idea for Mama Basta percolated during the pandemic, with the first clients receiving food in July 2021.

After cooking and packaging, the food arrives in insulated bags, ready to be heated and served. Deliveries are made in Madison, Guilford, Branford, North Branford, East Haven and parts of New Haven.

“Our tagline is ‘Taking care of dinner” and there’s truly no better feeling than dropping a week’s worth of meals on a doorstop and knowing we’ve made meal hour a little easier for that home,” Ball says.

Menus and ordering can be accessed via Facebook at Mama Basta or SurveyMonkey at http://bitly.ws/h47U.

Ball attributes her business acumen in the food industry to working in the family business, D’Andrea Group Dunkin’ Donuts, for years.

“For me, I’ve always been in food service,” she says. “It was a huge thing to leave a very lucrative career. It’s terrifying, but it was on good terms and it was time.”

Mama Basta’s menu incorporates Italian American dishes with Tex Mex, comfort foods and “Instagrammable dishes,” Ball explains.

“I try to do things that are trendy or things that I’m interested in, so I look at what’s going on online, what’s going on, what’s popular and trying to replicate that or come up with something on my own,” she says.

This Branford resident shares work space with cooks from a number of different food trucks in a Northford commissary kitchen. There, she shares the kitchen, but has her own 200-square-foot prep and dry storage area.

The business is steeped in Ball’s Italian heritage, from the food, to the name, to the logo.

“I feel that this business, for me, is a coming home, in a way,” Ball says, standing in her 10-by-10 foot food prep space.

“I’m honoring my family’s roots and tradition of food and cooking and that element of family dinners,” she adds. “The meatballs are my grandma’s meatballs. Everybody who ate her food loved it.”

Ball is now creating her own foodie fans, serving Grandma Mary’s Sunday sauce and meatballs.

Kristin Ligouri orders about eight meals a week. With Italian roots herself, she is “addicted” to Mama Basta.

“My father’s Italian descent, my husband is Italian — her food has been like having Nonni’s,” she says.

“The sauce reminds me of a lot of good friends and family members growing up,” she adds. “She puts a little pepperoni in it. Just those little tiny additions, make it special, make it that old school, grandma, great-grandma feeling.”

“The Sunday sauce is just incredible,” she adds. “You can find a lot of amazing businesses that excel in Italian food in New Haven County, but to get one delivered and still taste like it came off the stove on Sunday, pretty remarkable.”

Diane Zorich was on the roster on the first day of Mama Basta deliveries and continues to order between six and eight meals a week for herself and her husband, Chris Zorich.

“Every night at dinner time you have a fresh, home-cooked meal, you pull it out, you set your oven to 375 (degrees), you stick it in the oven for 25 minutes, boom, you’re done,” the Madison real estate agent says. “It is heaven.”

She also appreciates that she can stick to her Keto diet with Mama Basta’s almond breading and cauliflower rice.

While she loves everything on the menu, she says her favorites are Saucy Beef Birria Style Taco-Cauli Rice, which is braised birria-style beef with toasted soft white corn tortillas, shredded cabbage jalapeno radish slaw, queso fresco and cilantro lime cauliflower rice; the Walking Taco Salad, taco seasoned ground beef, corn chips, cheddar cheese, chopped romaine, corn and black beans, salsa roja and sour cream; and the Crispy Chicken Caesar, chopped romaine lettuce, sliced crispy chicken cutlet, house-toasted croutons and Caesar dressing.

For Chris Zorich, it is the Italian focused dishes that he favors, including Sunday Sauce Spaghetti and Meatballs, egg spaghetti with Mama Basta Sunday Sauce, beef meatballs, sweet Italian sausage, zesty pepperoni and roasted vegetables and Boom Goes the Chicken Parmigiana, Italian chicken cutlets, marinara, mozzarella, egg penne pasta and roasted vegetables.

“Every single meal is delicious,” says Zorich. “The consistency of the meals — every week, every meal is delicious.”

“So, between the convenience and how good they are, it just makes your life so much better,” she adds.

Then there is the name of the business — Mama is a nod to Nicole herself and Basta is Italian for enough.

“It’s stop or enough in Italian,” explains Ball. “If someone is filling your plate you say, ‘Basta, basta.’ That’s enough, stop.”

“So, the whole concept of the business is, ‘It’s good enough. This is good enough. Your life is good enough, what you’re doing is good enough,” she says. ‘I’m going to give you food that is good enough for your family.”

In this vein, she says the mantra for the business is, “Let’s just get it done, feed ourselves and be happy,” she adds.

And happiness fills Mama Basta’s kitchen,

As Ball and Hayley Wilmot, her one and only employee, stand side by side prepping food there is a lot of laughter. It is evident they enjoy working together.

After working in restaurants for years this was a perfect fit for Wilmot after moving back to Guilford, her hometown.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” she says, zesting lemons for dressings, rice seasoning and salsa.

Her favorite part of cooking “is the smells and then eating it afterwards,” she says, laughing.

Then she thinks a bit more and adds, “Actually I enjoy doing prep work, so when she gives me my list of, ‘Let’s make some dressings,’ that’s probably my favorite. Like, ‘Okay, let’s put all the parts together.’”

The logo, incorporating the national colors of Italy, green, white and red, was designed by Ball’s husband, Joe. It is “an homage to the New Haven Railroad logo,” explains Ball.

“So, it’s designed to pay tribute to our family’s roots in being immigrants and coming to New Haven from Italy,” she says.

Ball is also incorporating philanthropy into her business, giving back to the community by surprising local people with meatball subs, including the Branford police and firemen.

“I really feel like it’s part of the culture of who we are,” she says. “If I’m going to do something or spend something, I’d rather it be on feeding somebody than doing something else.”

Ball talks about her passion for cooking.

“I try to keep things simple and provide a good wholesome meal that I put a lot of love and thought into.”

“Just like the food I ate as a child,” she adds. “You could always taste that there was love in it.”

Contact Mama Basta at 203-589-0084; Facebook Mama Basta; Instagram @mamabasta.